Another dam on Zambezi is dangerous-Report

Friday, October 9, 2009

Originally published in Zambia Watchdog

International Rivers Network has released a report condemning a Mozambican project that aims at putting a dam on the Zambezi river and build a huge hydro-power station at Mphanda Nkuwa.
The network has said while the choice is to create more power, the region would be without water in the future critiquing that it is a choice Southern Africa could face in a few years if current plans to build more large dams on the Zambezi proceed.

According to the Non Aligned News Agency (Nam news network), the network noted that the US$2 billion Mphanda Nkuwa Dam on the Zambezi River which will mostly serve neighbouring South Africa’s power needs, would be like exporting social and environmental impacts in Mozambique, and ignoring climate-change warnings that show major hydrological problems ahead for Southern Africa.

The Zambezi, Africa’s fourth largest river, is expected to be especially vulnerable to climate change. Millions of people depend upon it for their livelihoods, said the network.
In the report which will be officially released in Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo on Oct 19, author Mark Hankins, a Nairobi-based renewable energy expert, describes how that country could develop a domestic electricity supply system based on market-ready, clean-energy options that are low-cost, rapidly implementable, and well-suited to the geographical distribution of local demand

The plan, the report says, focuses on distributed renewable energy and energy efficiency that would meet the energy needs of the far-flung parts of the country that do not now have access to electricity. Most of the technologies described in the report are also well-suited to meeting the growing need of urban areas already tied to the grid. Currently, 80 percent of Mozamibique’s population does not have access to electricity, the author also observes.

“It’s time we begin to address our own energy needs, and in ways that will protect our important natural treasures like the Zambezi River,” said Anabela Lemos, the director of the Maputo-based NGO Justica Ambiental (JA!). “Clean, decentralised energy for all should be the top priority, not damming the Zambezi to support energy-hogging industry and cities in South Africa.” JA! is the sponsor of the report.

Mark Hankins also said, “As long as the Mozambique’s power planners focus on the huge consumer next door, they will never adequately meet the needs of their own country, which remains largely off-grid and unconnected. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

The report notes there is significant potential for green biomass with five large sugar farms that could contribute considerable bagasse from sugar cane waste to bio-mass fired electricity, adding that converting sugar waste into biofuel could put another 60MW on the grid that could extend electrification to rural areas.

The report also details the nation’s potential for solar, wind, small-scale hydro, and biomass. It describes key energy efficiency measures that could help Mozambique reduce its energy load going forward, and also describes steps needed to help its energy sector develop these kinds of decentralized energy systems.

“Eskom is the fifth largest power company in the world and South Africa has been very successful in giving people access to electricity. Green energies tend to be more expensive, but they create jobs and don’t damage the environment. In Kenya electricity costs three times what it does in South Africa. Getting South Africans off cheap electricity is like getting Americans off cheap gasoline,” notes Mr Hankins.